A few months ago, my dad’s friend, who is a carpenter, removed a drafty old exterior door from our 75-year-old house. Although I missed the solid, sturdy feel of our old door, its lock would sometimes stick, and I’d secretly feared a burglar would notice the door’s structural frailty. It was good to have a new beginning—weathertight, secure and a step up, in more ways than one. We now had to physically step up because placing the new frame in our old doorway had slightly elevated our threshold. In those first days, I stumbled a lot.
I have also stumbled a bit over Advent, I’ll admit. Advent, the first season of the church year, is also a threshold or what we might call “liminal time,” according to Jordan Miller-Stubbendick, this month’s devotional author (p. 20). Advent is where endings meet beginnings. I’ve never felt that as deeply as I have this year, when our faith community is both celebrating and lamenting. We are stumbling into a time of joy, while we have so much to grieve. After a year like 2020, we just want to get back to normal, but as Miller-Stubbendick says, we are being led “from one room into another” as “we let go of what has been, not yet knowing what is to be.”
We need a fuller vision of Advent than the simple countdown to Christmas that (in the U.S.) begins as soon as Thanksgiving dinner ends. “Only 28 shopping days left until Christmas,” blares a TV ad. “Have you made your Christmas cookies yet?” friends ask. Our calendars fill up with caroling, concerts, programs, get-togethers and more. When the pressure is on to show so much Christmas spirit, where is the Spirit?
The Spirit is all around us, accompanying us over the threshold toward God’s justice, God’s mercy and God’s eternal reign. We know that Advent is about more than our preparation. We know that Advent is about what God gifts to us: a savior who is Christ the Lord. During Advent, we look to Christ’s coming into the world—then, in a Bethlehem stable; now, in Word and Sacrament; and in the time to come, when God will make all things new.
Yet Advent now requires courage. We must be willing to look at and confront what we would rather deny: the brokenness of poverty, sickness, violence, greed, apathy and fear in ourselves and in the world. What will we do when we stumble upon the places where the doorways of opportunity in our own land have gotten stuck? Can we see the broken promises of a step up and security for marginalized people? Will we hear John the Baptist crying out into our wildernesses from the Advent readings: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2)?
We are invited to join in the work of God’s kingdom. We don’t have far to go. God is always coming near. Then. Now. Always. Whenever we fear to cross a threshold, we can turn to God in Christ, who promises: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). God never breaks God’s promises.
Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.
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